It’s time to ban the dreaded phrase ‘senior citizen’. And here’s why. Posted on August 21, 2020August 21, 2020 by Peter Meadows I am not old. My birth certificate and my body may tell a different story. But my mind – and my attitude – say otherwise. And I just wish the world around me would stop trying to get me to change my mind. The ‘offence’ started a good while ago. My 55th birthday was marked and marred by a mailing from Saga – those blue rinse cruise people – inviting me to do something or other. That put an end to what was never going to be a good relationship. It was also the opening shots in what has become an ongoing assault on the way I wish to see myself. The biggest culprit being that horrid label ‘senior citizen’ that seems to come from everywhere. I find I’m in good company – including, possibly, yours. This company includes 78 year-old Retirement and Career Coach Gary Foster. Recently Gary said, when it comes to senior citizen, ‘I refuse to put myself in that category. This is not a denial that I am not older than most or that I’m not getting older. I just don’t need another moniker to remind me and to plunk me into a category that has a negative tone’. Absolutely. Of course, it is markedly better than ‘golden years’, ‘elderly’, ‘old codger’ and such. But do we even need a defining category? To be pigeonholed with words conjuring up the image of a shuffling couple trying to cross the road – as the road sign depicts so unhelpfully? Quick story. My wife, Rosie, hit 60 – and thus was now a pensioner. Caught up in a raid on a jewellers (she lives that kind of exciting life) she came face to face with a local reporter wanting her story. When asked her age (what did that have to do with anything?!) she was wise enough to know what was ahead. To say ‘60’ would have the paper designate her as ‘pensioner Rosie Meadows’. Not ‘vibrant mother of five’, not ‘former actress’, not ‘world traveller’, not ‘former business owner’. But ‘pensioner’ – with all negative images it throws up. So Rosie answered ‘59’ – though she could easily have got away with ten years less. And her fingers were crossed, of course. My point? It’s that words matter – especially when rather than being life-enhancing they create negativity and point to the bad smell of being past your sell by date. Gary Foster astutely notes why we are where we are. The blame falls at the feet of psychologists and marketers he claims saying, ‘Until 1904 we had two age categories – adult and child. Then, in 1904, the President of the American Physicalists Association invented the term “adolescent.”’ From there came the growth to seven categories: newborn, infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle age, and old age. As Gary puts it, ‘Each is a lucrative market for psychologists and clever marketers.’ However, since the 1900s the time span between middle age and old age has extended dramatically. Gary says, ‘Senior citizen probably made sense when you were automatically there at 65 in the eyes of the government, financial industry, the general public and were facing just a few years before checking out.’ But no longer is that the way life is. Those once tagged ‘old’ or ‘senior’ may now have some 20 to 40 years ahead with mostly good health. And it is demeaning, even cruel, to badge them – and treat them – as though this is not the case. What’s being described here are Baby Boomers– those born during the years after the last war. The generation that spawned Paul McCartney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elton John, Meryl Streep and such. As Marc Freedman, author of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations says, ’Baby boomers and the generations following them don’t think in terms of years or age. After all, it was the baby boomer generation that coined ‘60 is the new 40.’ Marc adds that boomers have benefited from medical and technological revolutions and been subject to the explosion of the ‘how to make you look and feel younger’. With the outcome that most refuse to accept that ageing will lead to less productive years. That’s me. It may well be you. And it’s why I’ll fight tooth and nail to escape from being a ‘senior citizen’ either in name or attitude. Gary Foster has his own very American way of expressing his feelings on the subject – regarding himself as ‘a fully-functioning septuagenarian with more gas in my tank than I had when I was wandering in the haze of corporate life at age 50.’ He also fights back by seeking out other ‘kick-ass’ (I warned you he’s American) people like him who refuse to play ball with the ageism that terms like ‘senior citizen’ represent. He even defines what he means by ‘kick-ass’. Here’s my massaged version. You know that’s you if you are – Something of a rebel: Resistant to – and outspoken about –ageist stereotypes, attitudes, and comments about ageing. Have high energy: Driven with a late-life sense of purpose. In charge of your health: Deliberately doing the right things to promote the health of your body and mind. Curious: Committed to continue learning, exploring and growing in the fullest way. Creative: Actively showing that ideas and their expression don’t deteriorate with age. Selfless producer rather than a self-indulgent consumer: Giving back, paying forward, by sharing skills, experiences, talents with those coming up behind. Necessary: Living to be important to someone all the time. Which brings us full circle back to ‘if not “senior citizens” then what?’. If there has to be something then I’m attracted to the solution from Maureen Connors, a San Francisco retail consultant. Maureen recently told the Boston Globe she coined the term ‘perennials’ as a play on ‘millennials.’ Perennial = ‘lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.’ Yes. That would do me nicely. And if you’d like a bit more on the negative views of aging here’s a link to a blog you may have missed – Don’t fall for this ‘best before’ nonsense – about food or yourself. How do you feel about ‘senior citizen’? Do you have a better version to suggest? Please tell all either here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community Peter Meadows Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s using his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, and escapes to Spain when he can.